In the early 1970s, the Keith-Albee and the Hyman family began to feel the impact of the growing television and motion picture industry. Faced with significant competition from large multi-screen theatres springing up all over the country, the Hymans opted to convert the main auditorium into a three-screen movie house. Two smaller theatres were constructed in the east and west sections of the main auditorium under the balcony. With great effort, the Hyman family constructed these areas without destroying the historic detail of the grand theatre. A fourth theatre was later added in a retail space facing Fourth Avenue. Future plans for the area will be a box office as well as a catering kitchen to support the Keith-Albee theatre.
In January 2006, the Keith-Albee closed as a functioning movie theatre and after almost 80 years of ownership, the Hyman family made the most generous donation of this local institution to the Marshall University Foundation, Inc., who in turn passed it on to the newly-formed Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center Foundation. KAPAC immediately began to restore the Keith-Albee in preparation of the premiere of the movie “We are Marshall” by returning the front lobby and theatre to its original configuration. KAPAC continues ongoing renovations including all of the theatre’s roofs, addition of a ADA restroom on the main floor, restoration of the upper front façade, west wall and Paris Signs' refurbishment of the iconic vertical sign. Future restorations to the outside will include the front storefronts, marquee and rear of the building. The Keith-Albee has begun to return to its grand status as the heart of the downtown and KAPAC is committed to return the theatre to a true restoration of the 1929 design.
Our community continues to step up to work to save the Keith-Albee. In 2011, the sign was damaged during a windstorm and was taken down after 80 years. Members of the community along with Trifecta Productions, a local multimedia company, came together to promote what was known as the Save Our Sign campaign. A concert was held at the Keith-Albee to raise funds for the restoration of the iconic sign. Here is a video documenting the restoration process of the famous Keith-Albee sign:
Originally, the Keith-Albee was equipped with a Wurlitzer organ to accompany live performances and motion pictures. The organ was capable of creating almost any sound effect needed for silent films shown in theatres of the day. In 1950, the organ was sold and removed from the Keith-Albee. Huntington resident Robert Edmunds and his Huntington Theatre Organ Project, Inc. took on the project of replacing the organ. Thankfully as a result of significant efforts, a 1927 Wurlitzer organ, originally in the Granada Theatre in Bluefield, WV, was purchased and installed in the Keith-Albee in 2001. In 2009, the original Keith-Albee Wurlitzer became available and is currently being reinstalled in the theatre, and the Granada Theatre organ has been relocated to its original home.
Projects that are in the process are restoration of the heating and cooling system (2016), seating (2016-2017), 4 dressing rooms (2015-2016) and women’s restrooms to begin the spring of 2016. Through community involvement work has begun to recreate the original carpet. KAPAC will have the carpet reproduced and installed. Several other projects are under development, such as the electrical system upgrade, restoration of the furnishings, rear façade repairs and restorations, restoration of the dressing room towers and basement, and finally the restoration of the plaster and painting of the theatre. All projects will be funded through public funding and private donations.
To date, ongoing efforts by KAPAC are working preserve the theatre as a National Historic Landmark, restoring fully to its grandeur of 1929, as a temple of amusement and national treasure.
In order to ensure a bright future for the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center, a unique entity has been formed to assist in this most deserving project: The Orpheum Society.
This organization takes its name from the famed “Orpheum Circuit,” a chain of vaudeville and movie houses that operated from 1886 to 1927, when it merged with the Keith-Albee theatre chain, ultimately becoming Radio-Keith–Orpheum (RKO) Company. RKO became one of the major Hollywood studios of the 1930s and 1940s. Interestingly, the dressing rooms at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center are all named for stops on the original Orpheum Circuit.
Membership in The Orpheum Society is available to persons who desire to become charter members of this vehicle, which will be a vital part of the long-term renovation and revitalization of the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center. Members will receive invitations to private receptions, advance notice of upcoming events, advanced tickets for events, discounted pricing for select events, networking opportunities, and an honorary plaque.